Journal of the Plague Year 2020: I Will Speak Common Words to You

salad, home cooking, lockdown, moosewood
May I recommend home cooking during these times of trouble? Here, a salad from Moosewood Cooks at Home.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from the President of MetLife Home & Auto soberly assuring me that, in this time of uncertainty, “Our team is here and ready to help so you can focus on the health and well-being of you and your family.”

That’s nice. But what took you so long? You do realize that it’s actually kind of funny to get a form letter three months into a pandemic saying, Oh, by the way, our company will offer payment and billing leniency starting in June.

I’ve gotten uplifting, consoling emails from businesses ranging from my old yoga studio to Southwest Airlines — pretty much everyone with whom I do business. Congratulations, MetLife, for bringing up in the rear and assuring me that everything will be OK and we’re all in this together. I’ll remember that next time my car is stolen and you sic a private investigator on me and pay out grudgingly, months after I’ve replaced the car. You were less concerned about the health and well-being of me back then, but perhaps you’ve learned the error of your ways.


One of the awesome things about occasionally working from home is that I get to see what goes on in my neighborhood during the day. Aside from the bunnies and hummingbirds and the feral cats that prey on them, there’s a lot of human activity that’s random, picturesque, and thoroughly urban.

For about 30 minutes yesterday in mid-morning, someone played what seemed to be a 1950’s instructional record. Using a loudspeaker, one of my neighbors broadcast the following over and over, first in a male voice, then in a female one:

I’m speaking so that you may hear the qualities of my voice. In order to do that, I will speak common words to you.

It stopped as it started, abruptly and with no explanation. It reminded me of a scene in the French movie, Orpheus, where a man sits listening to his car radio inside his closed garage late at night. He tunes into a station where an announcer reads a series of surrealist fragments in a stilted voice. When the transmission fades out and is replaced by static, he frantically spins the dial, but finds only random noise. Being French, he’s left inconsolable.

Another lovely incident occurred while I was waiting in line to get emissions checked on my 2016 Scion (the replacement for my stolen Dodge Charger). For roughly 20 minutes I idled behind a white, windowless panel van with a bumpersticker that said, “Resistance Is Futile.” This was pleasingly ominous.

When the driver climbed out to let the tech hook his van up, he proved to be a guy in his early 50s, no mask, bushy beard. He had one of those wallets that’s attached to a chain that you clip to your belt. Naturally I am deeply grateful to him, because I enjoyed a lively half-hour speculating about his philosophy and motivations.

I also felt bad because I used to have this cool vintage LBJ for President bumpersticker, but it fell off soon after the 2016 election. Now my bumper merely hypes two tattoo parlors, Machine Age and Black Garden London, and suggests that the viewer vote for Mayor Pete in 2020.

(NB: It delights me that Mayor Pete’s campaign bumperstickers came in three colors, all subtle and tasteful. Hell, yeah. Why would America hesitate for an instant? He and First Gentleman Chasten would make the White House fabulous, in an earnest, geeky way.)

As I said last time, it’s important to seek out reminders of love and compassion. Here’s a neat story from the Washington Post about what happened with protestors asked a black D.C. police officer, “How can you wear that badge?”


J.A. Thompson

Positive Covid-19 tests in Arizona: 24,332

Current hospitalizations: 1,234

Deaths: 1,012

Recoveries: 5,298

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